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Are companies getting a true picture of their human rights performance?

Blog by Liz Sandwith, chief professional practice advisor |  5 September 2017


Back in 2016, a coalition of 175 civil society organisations claimed that the UK was failing to meet many of the human rights recommendations made by the United Nations. They argued that although the UK government had a “generally good level of rights protection”, 132 recommendations by the UN were still not implemented.  Examples include prison overcrowding; tackling hate crimes; and restricting stop and search powers.

The UN Guiding Principles Reporting Framework, published in February 2015, is the world’s first comprehensive guidance for companies to report on how they respect human rights and on 19 September 2017, the Assurance Guidance, which complements the UN Guiding Principles Reporting Framework, will be launched. This Guidance provides subject matter guidelines for expert practitioners, including internal auditors and external assurance providers, who are responsible for providing assurance on human rights performance and/or reporting.

It has the goal of helping to strengthen companies’ underlying human rights performance to identify, prevent and remedy any negative impacts on people connected to an organisation’s operations and its value chains.

The launch will be attended by the Chartered IIA's President Paul Boyle and other key names in the world of assurance, including Paul Druckman, Chair of the Corporate Reporting Council, Financial Reporting Council, and Louise Nicholls, Corporate Head of Human Rights, Marks & Spencer PLC.

I am fortunate to have been involved in the drafting of the guidance for internal auditors within companies, or in firms providing internal audit services to companies, when assessing their human rights performance.  Internal audit is often referred to as the ‘third line of defence’ within companies as it seeks to provide independent and objective assurance to the governing body and senior management. The IPPF sets the competencies required of internal auditors with respect to the undertaking of internal audit assignments. The internal audit section of the guidance emphasises those competencies that are likely to be particularly relevant for the undertaking of an engagement that includes an assessment of human rights performance.

Although the UK has taken well known steps to incorporate internationally recognised human rights law into domestic legislation there are still cases where it is found to have breached human rights. Whilst many cases are resolved within the UK’s own legal system, there continue to be cases which go to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) for a final decision, e.g. sexuality of people serving in the armed forces, UK widowers entitlement to benefits, the ban on prisoners voting in the UK, monitoring of private correspondence by the UK Government, stop and search under UK Terrorism Act.

In a damning report (June 2016), the United Nation’s Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights  confirmed that the UK government’s austerity measures and social security reform are in breach of their obligations to human rights.  The UN committee said it was “seriously concerned” about “the disproportionate adverse impact that austerity measures” are having on disadvantaged and marginalised individuals and groups.

As we are all aware, human rights is high on the current government’s agenda and should be high on the radar of all organisations.  As internal auditors, it should be on our ‘watch list’ from both a market sector and a geographical location perspective.

As a HIA, can you afford to miss this launch and learn more about what is happening? Attending this event will equip you, as HIA, to add human rights to your 2018/19 internal audit plan.

Register for this event


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Content reviewed: 24 October 2018